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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: North Bay / Marin | Police State and Prisons
Copwatcher Arrested May 1st Santa Rosa
Copwatcher arrested by Santa Rosa Police while videotaping police harassment of young participants of the May 1st Immigrant Rights and International Workers Day march.
quoting a blog entry from the local alt/weekly: http://www.bohemian.com/bohoblog/?p=821
We do find it more than curious that the only person arrested at yesterday’s May Day march in downtown Santa Rosa (other than seven gang members who violated parole by hanging out outside the mall) was CopWatch activist Ben Saari. Indeed, Saari—cofounder of Free Mind Media—was probably only one of a handful of people out of the estimated crowd of 2,500 who exactly knows how to interact with officers without violating his or their rights. Yet he was nonetheless hit with a misdemeanor charge of interfering with an officer and had to post $2,500 bail. We called him up this morning as he shook the jail experience out of his head. Here is his side of the story.
“What happened was that I was just finishing the march going past Santa Rosa City Hall and in front of the Court House, the minutemen were out—they’re right-wing racist vigilantes—and they were being protected by the Santa Rosa police department. I got a phone call that cameras and observers were needed at Juilliard Park behind the stage, so I hustled over there. When I got through the crowd to the edge of the park, what I saw was one officer with a very agitated dog amid a crowd of thousands of people. The officer was visibly panicked and shouting at people to back up. There were three other officers with extendable batons employed and they were engaged in a face-off with a group of young people, mostly teenagers. The police weren’t giving any clear or consistent commands. Police approaching from three different directions were shouting to backup. It’s confusing, it’s hard to comply with, you don’t know what’s going on. The police tactics were really confused, really chaotic and my experience is that when police behave that way, situations escalate quickly. The police were trying to encircle this group of young people and push them out of the park. At that point, I had no idea what was going on. One of the officers yelled at me that there was a group of Norteños behind me. When the Santa Rosa police department calls someone a gang member, I don’t trust it. That’s a convenient way to arrest people without evidence.
The police encircled this group and were trying to push them out. The police were really aggressive, really combative. I was asking for clarification—where do you want us to go, what do you want us to do. At one point, an officer shoved me and I asked him why he was doing that, and he told me that if I didn’t stay out of his way I would be arrested. I said, I won’t get in your way. He increased his pace, shoulder-checked me and arrested me.
I think that the police were phenomenally disorganized and didn’t know what to do in a crowd to deescalate tensions or they were trying to pick a fight. I can’t . . . I have suspicions about why they would want to do that. It was definitely the effect they had, they were obviously scared and they weren’t issuing clear orders to anybody in the crowd. When we were being moved out of the crowd, I started walking out with a young man and a young woman and the officer who arrested me engaged them in a belligerent and embattling conversation. He was making accusations that they were a criminal element, that they were up to no good. When you are a police officer and you have suspicion of probable cause, there are things you can do and if you chose to bait people hoping that they will rise or sink to the bait and do something arrestable. By California law, it’s not entrapment, but it’s fishy, especially when it’s adult men doing it.
My intention was to not interfere with an officer. I was swept up in a police escalation of a conflict.”
quoting the local daily: http://www1.pressdemocrat.com/article/20080502/NEWS/805020392
SR police quickly defuse tensions
Confrontations among suspected gang members broken up along march
By Laura Norton
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Published: Friday, May 2, 2008 at 4:30 a.m.
The immigrants rights march that brought 2,500 people to downtown Santa Rosa on Thursday also resulted in at least three gang confrontations.
No injuries were reported, but one man was arrested, Police Capt. Gary Negri said.
Benjamin Saari, 37, was charged with interfering with a police officer after he "kept getting in the way when officers were trying to move people away from a fight," Negri said. Saari, a member of the police surveillance group CopWatch, was taken to Sonoma County jail.
None of the rally participants, or those involved in the face-offs, was arrested, Negri said.
Fights were reported at the Santa Rosa transit mall, where 50 to 70 suspected Norteño gang members waited for marchers to pass at Third and B streets, Negri said. When they did, the group flashed gang signs and yelled, Negri said, adding it was unclear if they were targeting certain people or the crowd in general.
"They were trying to agitate the crowd," Negri said. "They broke up when we sent more officers to the area."
A second incident in which gang signs were flashed occurred as the marchers entered Juilliard Park about 1:40 p.m., Negri said. That potential flashpoint also broke up quickly.
A third altercation occurred at the east side of the park and included physical attacks, Negri said.
Santa Rosa Middle School students who saw the fight said a group of Sureño gang members "came down on" a group of Norteños.
"They were flashing signs, and there was some heated dialogue," Negri said.
Officers placed themselves between the two groups and encouraged those not participating in the rally to leave, Negri said.
Six people who had left the park were arrested at the transit mall on suspicion of violating their gang probation, Negri said.
You can reach Staff Writer Laura Norton at 521-5220 or lnorton [at] pressdemocrat.com.